I received only one father’s blessing before his death. It took place when I was graduating from Brigham Young University and unsure of my future. I was sitting in a student apartment when the thought came, “Go home and get a father’s blessing.”
During that blessing I received some counsel that has become a lifelong quest: “By praying mightily you will receive guidance.” Since then, I have learned some things about prayer that have made a difference in my ability to communicate with my Heavenly Father.
I have found that the Lord expects me to do my homework before I ask for His help in prayer. President Harold B. Lee (1899–1973) instructed: “If you want the blessing, don’t just kneel down and pray about it. Prepare yourselves in every conceivable way you can in order to make yourselves worthy to receive the blessing you seek.”1 Often the Lord prompts me through quiet whisperings what I need to do; my task has been to go ahead and act on those promptings.
Another practice I have found helpful in preparing to communicate with my Father in Heaven is to spend time beforehand pondering what I am going to pray for. President Gordon B. Hinckley observed: “The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, [and] think of what we are praying about and for.”2 I have also found it helpful to seek the counsel of those I respect and love before I pray. I have found when I prepare for prayer my Heavenly Father blesses my efforts.
Although the Lord has promised to grant our righteous desires, I recently learned to look at prayer in a new way. “The miracle of prayer does not reside in the ability to manipulate situations and events.”3 Rather, the miracle is that we have a relationship with God and have the knowledge that He is there, that He loves us and desires to bless us. My prayers are more meaningful when I concentrate on other than just an intellectual acknowledgement or even an appreciative admiration of the Being I worship. Instead, I try to remember what I know about His attributes. When I am struggling to receive answers, I try to ask myself, “Do I understand that He knows my past, everything about me, and what I need to do?” He is the only one who knows the end from the beginning. My prayers take on new depth when I trust that perspective.
I also try to remember that the God I pray to wants me to be happy. I have had to learn that simple truth over and over again. For years, not having that knowledge interfered with my ability to pray mightily, because I did not feel that what He wanted for me would truly bring happiness.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that we should believe not only in His “macro plan of salvation” but also in His micro plan for each of our personal lives.4 Without this trust and knowledge, I was unable to pray with power. In addition, because He is a God of truth and cannot lie (see Alma 37:17), when I remember that Heavenly Father keeps promises both globally and personally, I pray with more trust. Ultimately, I must also know that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). I try to keep that love uppermost in my mind as I approach Him in prayer.
Often I pass over gratitude in my prayers too quickly despite its importance. President David O. McKay (1873–1970), quoting an unknown author, explained how to feel sincere gratitude: “In secret prayer go into the room, close the door, pull down the shades, and kneel in the center of the room. For a period of five minutes or so, say nothing. Just think of what God has done for you.”5
I believe the Lord is pleased when I appreciate the blessings He has already given me. For instance, President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) told of giving a woman a priesthood blessing and telling her that she would be healed of a malady. A few weeks later, the woman came back, angry that she hadn’t yet been healed. President Kimball responded: “Now I understand why you have not been blessed. You must be patient, do your part, and express gratitude for the smallest improvement noted.” She repented, did as he counseled, and was eventually healed.6 We should express constant gratitude for even the smallest increment of blessing.
The scriptures tell us that “fervent prayer … availeth much” (James 5:16), and they give examples of those who have received answers when they have called upon the Lord with great faith, energy, and determination (see Enos 1:4). I believe the Lord knows when I deeply desire something righteous and am willing to put forth the necessary spiritual effort to have His will revealed. I have found He has honored my persistence and is never weary of my constant petitions. As President Lee observed: “You’ve got to desire it with all your soul! You’ve got to have all the intensity of which you are capable and a desire that this is the most prized thing in all the world for which you seek!”7
A teacher once suggested that we express a “reality statement” to our Heavenly Father, such as, “I’m lonely,” “I’m scared,” or “I have no hope.” I have found that my prayers are intensified when I do this. The Savior Himself used a reality statement in Gethsemane when He pleaded, “Let this cup pass.”
I have also found it helpful to admit my weaknesses to the Lord. The brother of Jared exemplified this when he began his prayer that brought the Savior’s appearance: “Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that … we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires” (Ether 3:2). I have found that answers come more readily when I approach the Lord in humility and listen quietly for promptings in response.
After confessing my weaknesses I then feel ready to ask for specific blessings. For me, habitual phrases such as “bless my family” or “help me” do not usually constitute mighty prayer. My prayers are more effective when they include names and circumstances.
Notice how specific President Kimball is in this admonition: “We always have a prayer in our hearts that we may do our best on the football field, that we may appear well in the classroom, that we may remember the things we have learned when the test is on. … We pray as we stand to speak, as we walk, as we drive. We remember our friends, our enemies. We pray for wisdom and judgment. We pray for protection in dangerous places and for strength in moments of temptation.”8
The Apostle James writes that sometimes we have not because we ask not (see James 4:2). I have found the following definition of prayer in the Bible Dictionary helpful: “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”9
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaking of his mother, remembered that she would “call on the Lord with perfect confidence when special blessings were needed.” In her prayers, she would speak to the Lord of her covenants with Him, “almost reminding the Lord that we had paid our tithes and offerings, that the desired blessing was, as nearly as we could judge, a righteous desire, that we were serving in our various callings to the best of our ability, and that now we were laying hold on the Lord’s promises. I can’t communicate the sincerity and the fervor of those pleas. Or the sincerity of the way she lived. … Because my mother had no doubts about the Lord’s reality and his ability to answer her prayers, I haven’t either. … This is a very personal thing to talk about and I don’t very often, because it’s hard to do without sounding overconfident. But I would be scared to death to try and undertake something without asking for the Lord’s help, so I always pray for that help, and I’ve never failed to get it.”10
I have found there is great power in praying aloud. Fourteen-year-old Joseph Smith had surely prayed before the First Vision, but not vocally. The prayer that brought about the Restoration was verbal (see Joseph Smith—History 1:14). Though the Lord hears and answers all prayers, both silent and spoken, I have found that vocal prayer is especially powerful because it helps me concentrate my thoughts. The scriptures are replete with stories of those who lifted their voices to the heavens. Nephi prayed aloud (see 2 Nephi 4:24), Enos raised his voice till it reached the heavens (Enos 1:4), and Alma and his people prayed so loud their captors threatened to put them to death if they did not stop (see Mosiah 24:10–12). Christ offered His great Intercessory Prayer aloud (see John 17:1) as well as His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:39–44). If at all possible, when I am on my knees I try to pray aloud.
Someday I will meet my earthly father, and he might ask me, “Did you learn to pray mightily?” I hope to be able to answer him: “I did! I learned to prepare for prayer and to think of my Heavenly Father as a loving parent who wants to bless me. I learned to express gratitude, to pray with real intent, to pray for specifics, and to pray aloud. In return, my gracious Heavenly Father answered my prayers as He guided and directed my life.”
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions, personal reflection, or teaching the gospel in a variety of settings.
Ask family members to ponder their greatest desires. Ask them to think about who could help them obtain their desires. How would they prepare to present their requests? Compare this to preparing for mighty prayer, and discuss how preparation could improve communication with Heavenly Father.
Hand out the six suggestions for mighty prayer to family members. Invite them to illustrate these suggestions using hymns. Discuss the words of the hymns and how they relate to the suggestions. Conclude by singing any or all of the hymns chosen.